VANDWELLER GEAR: Voodoo Tactical MOLLE Military Style M3 Medical Bag Review

Consolidating my house into a van has been no small task. Getting everything from computers, kitchen, or vehicle maintenance paired down in a useful and accessible way has been difficult. On the path to independence, medical supplies and skills are a necessity. I don’t really need a big medical kit, but I do want to have anything from medications to wound treatments consolidated in one place, either for emergency or minor as-needed incidents.

To meet this need, I found that the Voodoo Tactical MOLLE-Compatible Military Style M3 Medic Bag did the trick. This bag came shipped for around $24, which is a surprising price considering the durability of the materials.

The bag has three compartments, which fold up nicely into a cubic shape secured by a beefy Fastex buckle.

The pouch has a handle for hand carry, a shoulder strap, and the MOLLE system for attachment inside a vehicle.

I have enough medical supplies in the bag to serve a pretty bad spill and dull the pain. I found that the small pouches hold around eight small bottles of pills and a couple small store boxes of other medicines. It also has enough room for many rubber gloves, band-aids, gauze, tape, and other wound wraps.

Overall, I’m quite satisfied with this item, since it consolidated all of my surplus medical supplies that I intend to carry on the road with me. At first, I thought the bag was too small for what I needed it for, but it fit everything that I could conceivably fix myself without the help of medical technicians. I have OTC pain ┬ámeds for just about any conceivable headache, fever, or illness crammed in it. All that and the price was just right.

Where to shop for van dwelling vans

In my search for the right van, I have amassed a knowledge of suppliers that may be helpful to others. First, I should note that since I’m looking for box vans/trucks with very specific characteristics (pass-thru between cab and box, at least 6’8″ inside height, 14-16′ length, etc), I’m limited to specific sources that are not often plain car dealers. Here’s the list:

1) Craigslist.org

This may seem obvious, but craigslist has been a great resource for finding box vans in my area. The drawback is that craigslist is a mine field of non-serious sellers, dud listings, and even scammers. I’ve found a few viable vans on here, but I just didn’t act fast enough to pick them up. One really great thing is that the vans that are selling fast on Craigslist are going for below-market prices. I had one pass through my fingers last week — regrettably, an indicator that it was a winner.

2) Penske Used Trucks

Penske is a nation-wide car and moving van rental outfit. When their vans hit about 100,000 miles, they sell them. One nice thing about Penske is that they post the vehicle maintenance reports. Granted, they’re not very detailed, but you can at least see if maintenance was missed for 20,000 miles or something. One major drawback of Penske as a van seller is that many of their vans are MUSTARD YELLOW.

3) Ryder Trucks

Ryder is also a national moving truck rental company. They sell all sorts of vans and commercial vehicles that are at the end of their profitable life. I have done extensive inspections of the Ryder trucks, so I’m not quite well versed in what they’re about. The greatest thing about Ryder is that they will provide you with a full maintenance report on any vehicle they’re selling. While I don’t like a lot of their vehicle maintenance practices (like stopping oil changes 30,000 miles before they sell a vehicle), at least I can see everything that was ever done to a vehicle. Another great thing about Ryder is that they -try- to refurbish the appearance of the vehicle, which seems to include a repaint of the box, and a painting of the chassis (which is exposed on box vans). One problem with Ryder is that their prices are well above anything you’ll find on Craigslist, so making Craigslist-level offers is almost ludicrous.

4) Budget Trucks

Budget’s trucks are harder to find in my area. I don’t have much information on them, but I have seen their vans around from time to time on craigslist. They are an option, but one that I am not all that familiar with.

Some of these may seem obvious, but they took me a while to really catch on to. The last three are really best if you’re looking for something that will consistently have 100k miles on it and has been fleet maintained (for what it’s worth). Craigslist is a multi-useful tool, because not only will you get individual listings, but industrial vehicle dealers as well. I found a van on Craigslist that I really wanted, but wasn’t ready to buy, with 18,000 miles and no issues. It would have been a great van, but I overslept on the deal over the course of about 2 months. I called the guy to buy the van and he had recently sold it. Snooze you loose, but the main message is that it was a deal that you wouldn’t find on any of the other options than craigslist here.

Fear and the American Dream

I recently saw a quote online that said: The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear. As always, the concept started tumbling around in my head. As I started to explore its meaning, the first thing that came to my mind is my attitude toward home ownership and how the system works. For me, my house and financial obligations keep me constantly compliant to the system through fear.

What could I possibly be in fear of as a home owner? How about the fear of having someone else own the roof over my head for more than a third of my life. Or the fear of what might happen if I lost my job and started missing payments. Maybe I fear unstable housing markets and high real estate prices that were artificially driven up by the wealthy using houses as trading stocks. Or perhaps I fear further economic downturn devaluing my property even more, making every payment made hard-earned money lost to the ether.

There are a lot of things to fear as a home owner and as a homeowner with a mortgage, fear is the driving force behind every day’s actions. I’m not saying that we should have little or nothing to motivate us to contribute to a system; I’m saying that the system of home ownership in this country has fallen into a state of exorbitant expense that keeps anyone under the age of 60 and without exorbitant income or wealth in a constant state of fear. Fear is the motivator when you owe a life debt to a mortgage company.

You can choose not to buy the next iPad and you’ll be fine. You can likely make due if you don’t buy a new car every 2-5 years. But with shelter as one of the fundamental necessities of survival as a modern human, it seems odd that we have allowed shelter and the way we purchase shelter to be dominated and dictated by wealthy banks and a system that now has the average American working to pay these exorbitant bills with fear as our motivator.

I realized that fear was the motivator when I thought about why I haven’t changed jobs in 8 years: I fear the instability it could bring to my sensitive economic system. I fear the prospect of losing my house over the possibility of unemployment. It has caused me to spend my irreplaceable 20′s having to play the safe card with every decision and take no risk for the potential to better myself, because the price of failing would be far too costly.

So many people live with these thoughts on a daily basis, but it seems that few recognize what it is at its core — a subconscious compliance to a system based on fear as a motivator. The fear in the system is a function of debt. When someone else owns the roof over your head, you have to work and work and work to pay off the debt. And it’s not that working for something is a bad thing, it’s that you’re likely paying a 200% or more markup on your debt (e.g., mortgage interest), making the loan almost impossible to pay off for the average earner. I don’t find that to be an equitable or reasonable way to live.

Lessons in Consumerism

I’m on a selling binge, purging my house of all things I am not using anymore. I have never been one for frivolous purchases, though that is of course a matter of perspective. As I sell things, I have re-re-re-learned two major lessons about consumerism: Few things retain value and selling is far more time consuming than purchasing.

I take very good care of the things I buy. I have two 18 year old cars that I have owned for more than 10 years and both run as well or better than the day I bought them. While I purchased them used, both with more miles than most people would even consider, they are now worth half or less of what even I paid for them initially.

Of course, the economic and personal benefit that I have received from these vehicles seems worth the exchange. My car has helped me to earn every dollar I have made in the last 13 years by reliably getting me there every day, day in and day out, without fail.

But there are so few things that we purchase that retain or even gain value. Beyond cars, think about stuff around the house that just lose all value at the point of sale. Furniture, for instance — How many people will want your 6 year old couch from the Super Mega Furniture Palace? There are items that we buy that are instant loss and items that do retain some value, but all seem to result in loss.

Between the time lost in creating ad listings, the equipment needed to make those listings (computer, camera, etc), and all of the little financial niggles, like eBay seller fees that occur along the way, it makes each purchase made seem very permanent. There’s not much left even after selling an item for a reasonable profit. I have recovered some money, which is nice, but selling used merchandise seems a futile exercise.

It’s nice to find a new home for things, but with every item I sell, I realize that every purchase involves a pretty serious financial loss. In a system where supply is always high, every purchase seems to become that much more permanent. The lesson I’m taking from it all is that buying used items at used prices for everything from tents to cars is the way to go. There is a loss and waste associated with every purchase, from the packaging to the immediate loss in value.

Learning to Weld

I took a short welding class at the local school to get a sense for how to weld. While I have wanted to learn welding for many years, this van project really pushed me over the edge to take the course. Not that I will be doing much welding on my own, due to the expense of the machines, I needed to know what limitations there were for what can be done in case I have someone else do the welding for me.

My theory going in was that if I learn to weld, I will be able to cut my pieces to shape correctly in such a way to not introduce difficulty for a welder, thereby raising expense. While I will be doing some of the smaller parts, some of my ideas for cabinet frames and the galley will likely have to be done by a real shop. At least I will now know how to best present the job to them to minimize expense.

One reason I’m talking about fabrication and welding is that my current plan is to fabricate the ‘house’ of an RV on my own design. It’s complex, but I’m up for it. The reason I’m not jumping on the RV bandwagon currently, is that they all appear to have been designed for people who like the interior design of hospitals and who don’t understand multi-use areas. For instance, why do Class-C RV’s have two sinks, and approximately four rooms? I think it’s because the people buying them can’t think around the traditional house model.

In the end, I hope that welding will help me to make a better van dwelling experience by allowing me to tailor the internal design to something more reasonable. RV’s should look like spaceships inside, not hospitals circa 1990.

Hopeless Retirement

In my frequent rambles about the economy and personal finances, retirement is one issue that I always have in the back of my mind. Retirement seems so far off and so impossible to me today, partly because I’m about 30 years from even being able to consider it as a reality. However, since part of my goal with this van project is to achieve financial independence, retirement is a major part of that.

In my state, the battle over retirement is constant, especially retirement for state employees. While private retirement plans silently crash all the time, leaving people with nothing to retire on, state employees have stronger contracts and larger numbers of retirees to support. While politicians consistently try to gut public retirement options in an attempt to forcibly pull people out of retirement, the wealthy and greedy raid private retirement accounts, pulling people out of retirement. Which is more evil? Eh, both.

Coming fully into adult age during one of the harshest economic periods in generational history, I realize one thing: There is no such thing as financial security, as long as your financial security is in the hands of others.

Wealthy politicians try to renegotiate retirement contracts on people who retired years ago, leaving retirees constantly battling to keep the retirement that they put in 30, 40, or even 50 years to earn. Private retirement account firms receive huge paychecks to make risky decisions that leave others with nothing to retire on and little to no recourse on reclaiming any of that money. The only people in the system who are safe are the wealthy, because they have amassed enough of the pot that they don’t have to concern themselves with ‘retirement’.

The bottom line appears to be that if you don’t make yourself independent and stable, your life rises an falls at the whims of politicians and greedy bankers. But the system has been made such that those in the middle and lower classes have no chance of making any headway on their own. Housing prices are hopelessly inflated to the point that any middle class family would be lucky to not go into debt for a modest lifestyle, food and energy prices are so high, any extra income is chewed up. So, what are we left with? Working until we die, struggling to pay simple existence bills (house, food, etc), and never owning anything.

It’s time more people stand up and take responsibility for their finances and their own financial future. There was a time in this country when homelessness was normal and was a way to not have living expenses eating at your wages. This was a time before mortgages (life debts), and high consumerism. I realize this isn’t going to happen, but I intend to make it happen for me. No more loans, no more interest (rent on money), no more rent, and less tax. Full ownership and financial independence — that’s the only way to divorce other people’s bad or greed-motivated decisions.

Out of the Dark Ages: Going Metric

Whether I go stealth or with an RV, I’ve decided to jump the tracks and do all of my conversion work in metric. Yes, METRIC. Having a science-related degree, I get metric. Let me revise that… Metric is easy, so it just makes sense to work with it.

What doesn’t make sense is the price of metric tape measures. I ended up having to get a metric/medieval tape, because the pure metric ones were hard to come by and could only be had in the cheap plastic case.

I know, it sounds crazy! Making my measurements with a system where everything is divisible by 10, making all unit conversions a matter of shifting a decimal point, rather than doing wacky fraction conversions on the fly…. have mercy.

I’m actually amazed I made it this long without a metric tape measure. Every fabrication project I’ve done, I have cursed the use of inches and feet, because of the ridiculous use of fractions rather than a rational system of decimals and factors of 10. Instead of dealing with 4ths, 8ths, or 32nds of an inch, I’ll happily be shifting the decimal in centimeters and millimeters (e.g., 43 mm = 4.3 cm).

Happy.

V.

Modeling Van Layouts

Since my primary consideration for my van dwelling van is to do my own conversion from box van to a ‘dry’ RV (no permanent water fixtures), I found it important to create a life-size model to see how it would all work. Pen and graph paper have been extremely helpful thus far, but while I’m in a house with a rough area (basement), it makes sense to create something more tangible.

To create the model, I used some 3M blue masking tape (non-permanent adhesive), and measured out the size of vans I’m most interested in. The ’14′ on the floor is the 14′ line, and closer (out of picture) is the 16′ line. On the wall, I outlined the min height (6’6″) of the box van interiors I’m considering.

The stuff on the floor, and the small rectangle on the left is the bed area. The to-scale outline for the bed is for a Full XL mattress. The items in its place are simulating storage. I plan to make a frame for the bed high enough to store storage boxes stacked two high (Rubbermaid 10Gal RoughNeck’s). Incidentally, you can stack 20 of these under a Full XL sized bed, which is more storage than I anticipate needing. I will most likely end up with 10 of these, and large duffel bags to store my outdoor gear.

The items on the right are in the ‘hallway’, which I’m guessing will be water jugs and maybe a couple of duffel bags.

Starting to account for other things, the above image has silver storage containers stacked to simulate the galley. I’m designing a galley that will be approximately that size to go at the head of the bed. It will contain the furnace, refrigerator, gas range, and possibly the microwave. Sounds luxurious, but that’s all the appliances that I will have.

This is a better view of bed and hallway area. If I end up with a 14 foot van, I will have to put the bed nearly against the roll-up rear door. If I get a 16 foot van, the bed will scoot forward a couple feet to allow internal storage of my motorcycle when I need it or a bicycle.

For my uses, creating a model is important to see if what I’m thinking is even remotely possible or reasonable. I think it is from the way standing in the model looks and feels. It is shaping up to be like a really tiny studio apartment. If anything, it is helping me to prepare of the possibility of taking the next steps.

The Freedom Theory

During election years, a lot of buzz words get thrown around that seem to rally or polarize the American public. Currently, the Republicans are in a heated battle over who their next candidate will be while the current president prepares for the impending fight. The only thing that seems clear to me is that every party and candidate speak of ‘Freedom’ and Americans rally behind those using the word by the way they see it.

I recently boiled down the mindsets of our two parties into the simplest terms I could possibly think of: Democrats want to regulate your business and finances, Republicans want to regulate your body and mind.

Of course, there are flaws in such a simplification, but I think it pretty well illustrates how the two parties want to rule. The part I’m interested in is how they both use ‘freedom’ as a buzz word, but none seem to be using it similarly.

Freedom is a difficult concept, because nobody seems to have a handle on it. I think it’s because we haven’t defined what it is, and most importantly, there is no underlying theory of what freedom really is.

While American conservatives appear to view freedom as having Christian prayer in schools, American liberals appear to view that as taking away another person’s right to any religion they so choose. Conservatives want businesses to run without impediment from the government, while liberals seem to think that businesses need curbs for certain behaviors because they will not self-regulate and will hurt the consumer and the environment. The list goes on and on.

Why can nobody seem to agree on what freedom really is?

I think we need a ‘Theory of Freedom‘ that formulates a logical framework from which to weed out bad candidates and people misusing the word. It would come in handy when the propaganda machine starts waving the flag and touting freedom for reasoning behind wars abroad. It would help to end arguments about human and civil rights in this country that are, ashamedly, still unanswered.

Of course, this little blog by a crazy guy that wants to live in a van isn’t going to be the place to write this baby out, but I think real freedom can exist, I just don’t think America has created the market the way it seems to think it has. I think America is missing the mark because we don’t have any logical framework for what freedom is — it’s just a propaganda word that rallies us to the political candidate that uses it the way we want it to be understood by all — a mindset that creates a false dichotomy, giving freedom to some while taking it from others.

Is there a way to define freedom to be all-inclusive and to neutralize entities that take it away?

V.